Survey offers insight into behaviors of delinquents

For county children in trouble with the law, more than 1 in 10 reported using cocaine in the last 30 days and more than half said they have gone to school high.

Seven percent reported taking a gun to school, but a knife was a far more popular choice.

Nearly a third of offenders admitted bringing a weapon of some type to school.

For the first time, Prince William County officials have collected statistics on juvenile offenders entering the court detention system so that the Department of Social Services and parents have more than anecdotal evidence on the frequency of risky behaviors.

A survey called a Virginia Adolescent Resiliency Assessment was done over an 18-month period and its coordinator Angela J. Huebner, professor with Virginia Tech/University of Virginia Northern Virginia Center, presented the data to county supervisors last week.

The survey was given to 289 teenagers, the majority of which were 15 to 17 years old, who were entering one of the county’s four detention sites — the Prince William County Group Home for Boys, the Prince William County Group Home for Girls, the county juvenile detention home, and the Molinari Juvenile Detention Home.

County supervisors were most surprised by statistics showing that 90 percent of the girls and 78 percent of boys, or 81 percent overall, said they have had sex.

“These numbers aren’t out of whack with the rest of the general population. They’re a little higher, but they’re not that much higher. Sorry,” Huebner said.

By comparison, 68 to 70 percent of Virginia’s general youth population reported having had sex, she said.

“Twenty-two percent of the [delinquent] girls and 35 percent of the [delinquent] boys had their sexual debut at or before the age of 13. So the kids in this system are starting young,” she said.

Nationally, 6.6 percent of high school students reported becoming sexually active before 13, according to a 2001 Centers for Disease Control report. A third of all students surveyed said they were sexually active.

Forty-five percent of the girls and 28 percent of the boys in local juvenile detention said they felt depressed at some time over the last year.

Twenty-four percent of girls and 14 percent of boys said they had made a suicide plan; and 25 percent of girls and 17 percent of boys reported making what they considered a suicide attempt.

Depression is the leading cause of hospitalization for children 10 to 14 and the second leading cause of hospitalization for youth 15 to 18, according to a 2000 report from the Virginia Department of Health and Human Services.

Forty-eight percent of those juveniles detained in the county said their parents were divorced or in the process, 20 percent of their parents had never married, 46 percent of their moms had a high school diploma or less and 43 percent of dads had high school diploma or less.

Other statistics include:

Sixty-two percent of the girls reported smoking in the past month, compared with 69 percent of the boys. The 2001 national survey of high school students had 28 percent reporting they smoked within the past month.

Sixty percent of the girls reported drinking in the last month, compared with 50 percent of the boys. The national survey of general students in 2001 had 47 percent.

Fifty-five percent of the girls smoked marijuana in the past month, compared with 48 percent of the boys. The national survey of general students had 24 percent.

The Prince William survey also looked at positive factors.

“We know children who feel connected to school do well. It’s a protective factor,” Huebner said.

Seventy-five percent of the delinquent teens surveyed said they never wear school logos and 58 percent had average grades of C and below.

On parenting, 43 percent of delinquent children said they were monitored a lot or always after school.

Other parenting responses: 68 percent said they had to call parents to let them know where they are; 43 percent had to let them know who they are with; 46 percent told where they went at night; and 51 percent of their parents knew their friends.

While those statistics may seem low to some parents, Huebner said the parents could think they discussed issues extensively with the child, but if the child did not feel like it was a conversation, they did not report it — it’s the child’s perception.

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